Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Allegorical notes on the Game of Minchiate

In the treatise by Francesco Saverio Brunetti - 1747


Copyright  by Andrea Vitali  - © All rights reserved December 6, 2018


Translation from the Italian by Michael S. Howard, January 2019


We have written about the Tuscan Tarot, or Minchiate, in several of our essays (1), bringing to light, among other things, one of the first documents, if not the very first, which deals with that game in a rather exhaustive form (2).


Among other texts, the volume Giuochi delle Minchiate, Ombre, Scacchi, Et altri d'Ingegno, [Minchiate, Ombre, Chess, and other games of skill] by Francesco Saverio Brunetti, was published in 1747 (3). In addition to giving a detailed description of the game and its rules (4), the author submits to his readers, through his “Allegorical Notes”, a reflection creating a parallel between the different situations of the game and ways of behaving in life in interpersonal relationships and with oneself, in addition to relating groups of cards, from the Triumphs (which he simply calls 'Tarocchi”) to the number and court cards, with the history of humanity, in order to teach by entertaining, according to the method we elsewhere indicated by the term 'Ludendo Intelligo' i.e. “Playing to Learn” (5).


For this last case, this is a personal assessment of the author, free from real historical documentation, but still valid for learning purposes. For example, he equates by similarity the four suits of swords, batons, cups and coins, called sequences, to the most important monarchies that in ancient times had ruled on the earth, or at least a portion of it, starting from that of the Assyrians and finishing with the Roman Empire.


The author then considers the 'verzicole', or those combinations of cards defined as 'honors of the game' to be credited to the players at the beginning of each game, as could be, for example, the possession of three or all four of the kings and the same for the “Papi”, or the first five cards, as follows: "Universally Men seek honors, riches, and pleasures, which things sought in moderation, and possessed without overwhelming attack do not render their followers evil, nor should one ever be blamed, who does not have total contempt of these things, being able, upon occasion, to have optimal use of them, for the Republic, for religion, and related things" (6).


To confirm his teaching, Brunetti is then constantly deferring to famous sayings considered wise, taken from the poets and philosophers of antiquity.


Before reporting some examples of the author's comments as described above, the entire order of the Triumphs of Minchiate is reported, recalling that compared to the classic tarots, the Minchiate presents in addition the three theological virtues and the cardinal virtue Prudence, the four elements and the twelve zodiacal signs, for a total number of 40 Triumphs.


1 Papa One [Uno] or Papino

2 Papa Two or Grand Duke

3 Papa Three or Empress

4 Papa Four or Emperor

5 Papa Five or Lover

6 Temperance

7 Strength

8 Justice

9 the Wheel (of Fortune)

10 the Chariot

11 the Hunchback or Time

12 the Hanged Man

13 Death

14 the Devil

15 the Devil's House

16 Hope

17 Prudence

18 Faith

19 Charity

20 Fire

21 Water

22 Earth

23 Air

24 Libra

25 Virgo

26 Scorpio

27 Aries

28 Capricorn

29 Sagittarius

30 Cancer

31 Pisces

32 Aquarius

33 Leo

34 Taurus

35 Gemini or Meat

[36] the Star

[37] the Moon

[38] the Sun.

[39] the World

[40] the Trumpets or the Judgment (universal).




Chapter One

Deck of cards


"This Game is made with a deck of 97 cards. These are the 4 common sequences of Swords, Staves, Coins, and Cups; each sequence has 14 cards. Then there are 40 Tarocchi, and the Fool [Triumphs].


Allegorical note


"One can assimilate this great deck of cards to the Catastrophe of worldly events; all together it is like the Human Genus, which lives scattered on this Earth; the 4 sequences are like the 4 Monarchies" (7).


1 monarchy = that of the Assyrians or Chaldeans, beginning with Ninus and ending with Darius

2 monarchy = that of the Persians, from Cyrus to Darius Codomannus

3 monarchy = that of the Greeks with Alexander the Great

4 monarchy = that of the Romans


"The 40 Tarots, which take all the other sequences, can be applied to the fifth or universal Monarchy, which collects every nation under its mantle. Eventually the Fool, who responds to any card, never takes, and never is taken, except when everything goes to ruin. Perhaps to remind us that since its origin the Human Genus has been mad, and yet the fools will last until the end of the World, when no more men will be born, Stultorum plena sunt omnia. [all things are full of fools] Cic. ep. 9" (8).


These are assessments that the author, as he expresses it, wanted to indicate, that by playing, Minchiate players would have the desideratum of deepening their understanding of the history of humanity.


Going directly to the Tarot [Tronfi], the author writes of these:


"The Tarots are noted with Roman numerals from I to XXXV; the first five are called the Papi, the last five the Arias, and are 36 Star, 37 Moon, 38 Sun, 39 World, 40 Trumpets [Judgment]" (9).


To this list follow the values of the Tarocchi from the ludic point of view.


Allegorical note


"The Tarots in this game are very useful, as in the Republic they are useful, that have expertise, whether in the Arts or the Sciences, which in them become excellent, come to gain for themselves, and for the Homeland immortal fame, and true glory. Ovid. de ponto.


Artibus ingenuis quesita est gloria multis.


[To many liberal arts is won the prize of glory]


Whence each must try to exercise himself in that art, or apply himself in that science, in which he feels most suited, quam quisque norit artem in e se exerceat. Aristoph.. [Aristophanes, who in his Wasps wrote that verse] later Cice. [Cicero, who in his Tusculan Disputations reported the whole verse of Aristophanes] whence Ovid in his art [Ars Amatoria, Art of Love]


Si vox est, sings: si brachia mollia, salta,

Et quacumque potes dote placere, place.


[If you have a voice sing, if you have agile limbs jump,

And with any gift in which you can please, try to please].


This is the manner of becoming distinguished, remarkable, and rich, to which the laws still bear respect in virtue of that axiom excellens in arte non debet mori [who excels in an art should not die]; and Horace says:


Dignum laude virum fine vetat mori.

[The Muses prevent the man of praise from dying]

(The author commits an error here, writing 'multa' instead of 'Musa')


So each one follows the admonition that Poet I [Ovid], in his art. [Ars Amatoria, Art of Love] made to his fellow citizens.


Disce bonas artes, moneo Romana juventus.

(Roman youth, I advise you to cultivate the fine arts) 





This one, neither a Tarot nor a suit card, enters all the combinations, and forms one with the maximum and minimum Tarot; you never lose it, if you do not lose all the cards, because when the game is done, it comes back and in its place a suit card.


For as Cicero says in Or. Stultorum plena sunt omnia; who will ever make sense of the fool? This is certain, however, that anyone who pretends to be crazy, and is not (if not driven by supernatural impulse) goes to a bad end, illegitimæ stultitiæ finis est infortunium (the end of false folly is injury). The madmen in the World do not make something determinate of anything, they fiddle with everything, and they mess up everything, only by uniting extremes (as with the Uno and the Trumpets) do they sometimes make some good effect. True madness never ends if one does not die, and in the World will last with the same World. In Minchiate the Fool is desirable, which the Wise plays in his own way. Solon used to say Stultus nunquam tacere potest (The fool can never be silent), but if he speaks little he will be wise, even if other signs suggest insanity, such is but Stobeus's deep opinion. But much more are those who want to appear wise, and are not, and are called impostors, who go selling magno conata nugas [A great effort for great nonsense], and are mostly cacadubj with great solemnity, of which Gellio, homines deliros, qio verborum minutiis rerum frangum pondera (The original Latin text reads Hominem delirum, that is, "A foolish man, who breaks down the weight of the matter, by minute subtleties of language"), these are men without sense and the most harmful in the world. For all that madness is an evil over every other pernicious malady, yet an Erasmus has been found, who in a small work (10) has filled many praises of it under the title Moriæ encomium [Praise of Folly] (11)  


Of great interest is the indication of the author where he underlines a type of special madness, that determined by supernatural impulses, referable to those taken by their love of God, i.e the saints, through meditations and the arrival of ecstasy. forgot contact with earthly reality (12).




1 - One can read, for example, about the Ligurian-Sicilian regional variant in the essay Ganellini seu Gallerini.

2 - See the essay Treatise on the Game of Minchiate.

3 - D. Francesco Saverio Brunetti, Giuochi delle Minchiate, Ombre, Scacchi, Et al., [Minchiate, Ombre, Chess games, and others], In Rome, For Bernabò, and Lazzarini, 1747.

4 - Below are the topics covered in the work in reference to Minchiate:


Chapter One

Deck of cards

The four sequences



Manner of play

Manner of play in games with entragnos. Manner of playing the hand with the entrails [entragnos] (Entrails are the counting cards, which are in the story [fola], and the points that advance that do the rest. The story is the last 13 cards that stay up the mountain [restano a monte]. [Translator's note: These are game terms, impossible to translate without knowing the game].

Manner of counting [i.e. scoring]

Explanation of the terms of this game

Laws of the Game

Game of Giro


Chapter Two

What does good play consist of?


Responding suit card to suit card

Responding Tarot to suit card

Responding Tarot to Tarot

Playing a Tarot


Value of the Tarots


Chapter Three

Playing in four each for himself


5 - See the essay La Scala Mistica in the 'Sermo de ludo'.

6 - D. Francesco Saverio Brunetti, op. cit., pp. 22-23.

7 - Ibid, p. 15.

8 - Ibid, p. 16.

9 - Ibid, pp. 19-20.

10 - Desiderius Erasmus, Moriae encomium, id est, Stulticiae laudatio, ludicra declamatione tractata, 1536.

11 - D. Francesco Saverio Brunetti, op. cit., pp. 20-22.

12 - In this regard, read the iconological essay The Madman (The Fool).